Protein & Your Body: When to Add Protein to Your Diet

Tuesday, October 24, 2006 - 2:42pm

By John Messmer, MD

We need a minimum of protein in our daily diet to avoid breaking down muscle tissue. For most of us, that is 0.6 grams of protein for every kilogram of ideal body weight. “Ideal” body weight means lean weight, that is, about 165 pounds for a man who is 5' 10" or about 145 pounds for a women who is 5'8". In these examples, the man needs about 45 grams of protein daily and the woman, about 35 grams. We should get more than the absolute minimum, however, to allow for storage of some protein and more efficient production of needed body components. These recommendations are baseline amounts for a person with modest physical activity.

Protein considerations for athletes and body builders

An athlete needs more protein than the couch potato. But then, an athlete (or anyone who expends much more energy than the average amount) needs more calories overall anyway. Because about 10-15 percent of those calories will be composed of protein in a balanced diet, for the usual athletic diet extra protein is not needed. If protein supplements are included, these extra calories may be converted into fat and stored, leading to unhealthy weight gain. If calories are cut from carbohydrates to avoid gaining weight from protein supplements, there will not be enough energy calories available, (because our energy comes mostly from carbohydrates).

The one exception to this rule might be body builders. The average exercising adult is not trying to increase muscle mass. However, body builders are trying to increase their muscle size. Since muscle is mostly protein, a body builder needs more dietary protein available to convert into muscle.

For further information on proteins and athletes see the following article from TheDietChannel: High Protein Diets: Are High Protein Diets Safe for Athletes?

Extra protein for people with severe bodily trauma or stress

Along the lines of body builders, people under severe metabolic stress—such as those with severe burns, major trauma or life threatening infections—need more protein. In these situations, tissues are being repaired and the body is producing more specialized proteins to deal with infection or to maintain fluid balance. In this case, a physician and a nutrition team will manage meal planning. Similarly, in cases of starvation, extra protein may be needed to speed recovery of healing and body functions.

Most people do not need extra protein

For the average American, the bottom line is to eat a balanced diet, regardless of whether that diet is:

  • Omnivorous, with protein coming from animal and vegetable food sources,
  • Vegan with a variety of grains, fruits, legumes and other vegetables providing protein, or
  • Ovo-lactovegetarian with eggs and milk protein added to the vegetarian fare.

To get the proper amount of protein, we simply need to choose from a wide variety of available foods over several days’ meals. In short, it is relatively easy to get the right amount/type of protein to maintain good health.

For further information on the recommended daily intake of protein see the following article from TheDietChannel: Pay Attention to Protein Intake.